Military History/Wanting to know more about key battles in World War 2.
What were some of the most important battles of World War 2? What countries were apart of those battles and what year did it take place? And also what is one of your personal favourite battles?
One way to look at WWII since it was so large, is to look at the different Operational areas, or Theaters.
For instance, You could divide the war into these areas: Russian Front, Western Front, North Africa, Mediterranean, Atlantic, Central Pacific, Southern Pacific/Papua New Guinea, China-Burma-India.
Each had battles that turned the tide in those theaters and helped ultimately turn the tide of the war.
On the East Front, there were many battles that we are only just learning about, offensives launched by the Soviets that were major defeats. Most people would say that Stalingrad turned the tide in the Soviet's favor, but the next summer the Germans launched the offensive at Kursk. I would not believe all that you read in histories of the war. As they say history is written by the victors. At Kursk, the Germans were still gaining ground when they called of the offensive and retreated, for strategic reasons. Of course this was painted as a huge defeat by the Soviets and in subsequent histories, even those written in the west.
At Stalingrad, the Germans fell prey to a pissing contest between Stalin and Hitler. Neither would give an inch, and Hitler let the 6th Army get into a position that any board wargamer would see was precarious at best and suicidal at worst. It turned out to be the latter.
The Operation Bagration destroyed the German Army Group Center and routed the German line in 1944 and led to the the Soviet push to the borders of Germany. This all led up to the final Battle of Berlin. The US could arguably gotten to Berlin first and in fact there were plans to drop the Allied Airborne Army on Berlin followed up by a rapid advance by armored forces. Eisenhower did not approve it, as he saw it as another blood bath like Market Garden. It was decided to let the Soviets capture Berlin and take the resulting casualties. They lost about a million men in doing so.
When you read stuff about the Soviets loosing 30 million people in the war, remember that Stalin starved 20 million of his own people in the 1930's when he eradicated the Kulaks, the Russian middle class farmer in order to collectivize the farms. During the war his secret police killed an estimated 100,000 of his own troops for "desertion" in order to stiffen the will of the rest. That is the equivalent of 10 US divisions. The US only fielded 93 divisions in the war. Stalin did not see his soldiers as human, but more like bullets and he and his commanders spend the with reckless abandon. Studies after the war based on casualties on both defense and offense showed that the combat effectiveness of a German Soldat was 1 to 3 over the Ivan. That means one German soldier was worth three Russians or one German was killed for ever three Russians. The balance against British and US was a bit more on par, 1 to 1.6 or so. A lot of that had to do with doctrine, equipment and how valuable individual lives were viewed.
The US and British, felt that soldiers lives should not be wasted needlessly because each life had value. The people were the state. The Soviets and Stalin saw the people only as fodder to be used to protect the state and to prop up the Communist system. They were cogs in a machine and were expendable.
Moving on the Mediterranean, The key battle was probably Salerno, which nearly turned into a mess for the Brits and the Americans. It was the landing in Italy that led to the slow advance up the Italian boot. There were other interesting battles, such as the landing at Anzio, but none of them were decisive until the German lines were ruptured in the Po Valley leading to the capture of Rome which put the Italians out of the war.
In North Africa, the big battle was at El Alamein where Montgomery finally pushed Rommel back from threatening Egypt. The US landing in Morocco was important because it led to the ultimate defeat of German forces in N. Africa and the capture of more men than were originally in the Africa Corps to begin with. A whole Army was destroyed and a quarter of a million men captured.
In the West, of course, the Landings at Normandy were trumpeted as a great battle and it was. Failure there would have given Hitler a lot of breathing room to field his "super weapons". If the Normandy landings had failed it probably would have been 1946 before they were tried again and by that time Hitler might have been able to fight the Soviets to a draw, and driven the US and British bomber forces from the sky with jet fighters.
Some people say the Soviets could have won the war themselves, but you have to understand that for every pound of war supplies they were given for free by the US and Brits, was one pound they did not have to make themselves. They concentrated on building tanks to replace all those destroyed. They did not have to build trucks, the US gave them 250,000 6X6 trucks, railroad engines, tanks, airplanes, boots, wire, food, even guns, rubber, and other stuff they then did not have to make themselves. Without our trucks they never would have made it to Berlin, since they would have had no way of supporting their forces with supplies. If they had made the trucks themselves, they would have been able to make fewer tanks and artillery. By the end of the war, the Soviets were bled white. A lot of their divisions were filled with Poles, Hungarians and other nationalities of countries they had overrun or "liberated".
So after Normandy, I'd say the Ardennes offensive came next. It was really the first and last major battle fought between US armor and German armor. The battle lasted several months as US forces pushed the Germans back along a broad front, rather than doing like Gen. Patton and Montgomery wanted which was to "pinch off" the base of the "bulge" and bag all the German forces like they almost did in the Normandy Breakout.
I will not mention Operation Market Garden, since it was a poorly conceived, poorly planned and poorly executed boondoggle that was politically motivated. Both the Brits and US had the built the 1st Airborne Army and were iching to use it again after Normandy to justify its great expense in material and elite men. At the time they were all sitting back in Britain drinking beer. So the commanders wanted to use them and came up with a hairbrained plan that ultimately led nowhere and did nothing but get a lot of good men killed or captured.
In the Pacific you can take your pick of a lot of battles. Any of the Island landings let to ultimate victory except the one at Peleliu, that did absolutely nothing but nearly destroy the First Marine Division. All for nothing. The island, which by the way, I have visited, was never used for anything but patrol aircraft, and Adm. Halsey recommended that the invasion be cancelled and the Luzon landings in the Philippines be moved up. The did the latter but not the former and thousands of Marines died for nothing. Today Peleliu is home to less than 500 people and the airfield built by the US is overgrown with weeds.
Iwo Jima gets a lot of press, but in truth, it was not worth the price paid: 6800 Marines killed and a total of 26,000 American casualties. That was more casualties than there were Japanese on the island. Of the 21,000 Japanese over 18,000 died. But the casualty balance was in their favor overall. People are still arguing over whether the battle was worth it and point to the number of airmen saved in the hundreds of B-29 bombers that landed on the island, each carrying 10 crewmen. Whether the total exceeded the killed and maimed I don't know.
The other landings in the Central Pacific, I would say that Saipan and Tinian were very important as they provided secure bases for the B-29 offensive against Japan.
I lived on Okinawa for three years only 20 years after the war and collected a lot of battlefield relics. Okinawa was the last, bloodiest and longest single battle in the Central Pacific. The Island was captured by the 10th US Army consisting of Soldiers and Marines in 3 months of hard fighting that historians say was more like WWI than WWII. I lived near one of the hardest fought ridge battles, Kakazu Ridge and was able to explore caves and bunkers in the hill, some of which you could walk right through the hill in.
While the troops were bogged down on shore, the great Kamakaze offensives were pummeling the US Navy offshore. Ultimately hundreds of US ships were damaged and a large number sunk and the US Navy suffered its highest casualties of the war. During the battle over 12,500 US servicemen died, and a total of over 82,000 became casualties, both wounds and psychiatric due to the high density of Japanese artillery, higher than previously encountered. The Japanese suffered over 100,000 combat deaths. The number is in dispute since a lot of the local Okinawans fought for the Japanese as Boetai auxiliary troops. They might push the number well over 110,000. Nearly 1/3 of the Okinawan population died as well. Pilots flying over the battlefield at 4000 feet claimed they could smell the corpses. The area over which the battle raged was only the southern 1/4 of the Island so it was a real butcher shop.
Dropping the Atomic Bomb made the battle for Okinawa also unnecessary in hindsight. The Island was to be captured as the primary staging area for the invasion of Japan. The Eighth Air force Headquarters in England was transferred to Okinawa, but the war ended before the aircraft got there for the air campaign planned against Kyushu the southern most main island. I myself went to the 6th grade in a camp called Camp Mercy, a large facility made up of Quonset huts that was to have been a receiving hospital for all the casualties expected from the Invasion of Kyushu. Vast military bases were built to house troops slated for the invasion, as well as giant supply dumps. When I lived there they were being used to support the war in Viet Nam. I went to the 7th grade on an old Navy Seaplane base, and we had PE rain or shine inside a huge plane hangar.
In the 8th grade I went to school on a Marine base in buildings that were old barracks. Summer camp with the boy scouts was on a Marine training facility too. I used to walk the beaches picking up bullets, and there were still plenty of hand grenades and mortar bombs to watch out for. Just about everywhere you went you could find .50 cal or .30 cal bullets and cartridge cases. If you were adventurous you could open old sealed emplacements and find weapons and machine guns. The Battle of Sugarloaf Hill took place near my boy scout meeting building and there were still foxholes, ammo cans and other battlefield debris you could pick up. Now it's all built up and has become part of Machinato City.
In the China Burn India Theater, the Battle of Imphal is probably the most important. The Japanese push through Burma into India was stopped by the combined forces of the British, Colonial Indian Army and the US Army and the Japanese army had to walk back to Viet Nam, many of them starving along the way.